Robert Sullivan. As opposed to the Pilgrims, Tony Horwitz begins his journey at Plymouth Rock.Plymouth Rock is a myth. The Pilgrims—who, Horwitz notes, were on a mission that was based less on freedom and the schoolbook history ideas the president of the United States typically mentions when he pardons a turkey at the White House and more on finding a cure for syphilis—may or may not have noticed it. In about 1741, a church elder in Plymouth, winging it, pointed out a boulder that is now more like a not-at-all-precious stone. Three hundred years later, people push and shove to see it in summer tourist season, wearing T-shirts that say, America's Hometown. Which eventually leads an overstimulated (historically speaking) Horwitz to come close to starting a fight in a Plymouth bar. Not to Virginians it isn't, he writes. Or Hispanics or Indians.Forget all the others, his bar mate says loudly. This
is the friggin' beginning of America!A Voyage Long and Strange
is a history-fueled, self-imposed mission of rediscovery, a travelogue that sets out to explore the surprisingly long list of explorers who discovered America, and what discovered
means anyway, starting with the Vikings in A.D. 1000, and ending up on the Mayflower
. Horwitz (Blue Latitudes
; Confederates in the Attic
) even dons conquistador gear, making the narrative surprisingly fun and funny, even as he spends a lot of time describing just how badly Columbus and subsequently the Spanish treated people. (Highpoint: a trip to a Columbus battle site in the Dominican Republic, when Horwitz gets stuck with a nearly inoperable rental car in a Sargasso Sea of traffic.) In the course of tracing the routes of de Soto in, for instance, Tennessee, and the amazing Cabeza de Vaca (Daniel Day Lewis's next role?) in Tucson, Ariz., Horwitz drives off any given road to meet the back-to-the-land husband-and-wife team researching Coronado's expeditions through Mexico; or the Fed Ex guy who may be a link to the lost colonists of the Elizabethan Roanoke expedition.Horwitz can occasionally be smug about what constitutes custom—who's to say that a Canadian tribe's regular karaoke night isn't a community-building exercise as valid as the communal sweat that nearly kills Horwitz early on in his thousands of miles of adventures? But as a character himself, he is friendly and always working hard to listen and bear witness. I hate the whole Thanksgiving story, says a newspaper editor of Spanish descent, a man he meets along the trail of Coronado. We should be eating chili, not turkey. But no one wants to recognize the Spanish because it would mean admitting that they got here decades before the English.Robert Sullivan is the author of
Cross Country, How Not to Get Rich and
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